How I studied in Nicaragua

One of my favorite things to do, besides travel, is to learn how other people travel and then pass along any tips I have gleaned to others.

It’s very easy to look at someone’s vacation photos with envy and even a sense of injustice that you haven’t gone on a trip even though you really want to. So to remedy the attack of the green-eyed monster, I am learning to practice counting my blessings and focus on the joys in my own life. But I also soak up everyone’s information on how they travel so I can prepare myself to do it cheaply and efficiently.

And in case any of you are also looking for tips, I thought I would share my story.

I am by no means an expert. Some bloggers have written e-books about how to travel and rack up miles on credit cards, and now those books fund their ventures. I’m not that experienced, but I do have a few things to contribute to traveling.

I studied in Nicaragua for a month by 1) saving money 2) researching and 3) getting a scholarship.

First, I knew I couldn’t spend three or four months in another country. There was no way I could save up the money I needed before hand to make up for lost paychecks. And I doubt my husband, Jordan, would have let me go for that long, either! So I worked hard. There were long hours. At a job I hated. And studying past midnight. And running all around town trying to pick up extra money. I worked 45+ hours a week regularly through a job at a hotel, my graduate assistantship at Florida State University, and my tutoring business on the side. I don’t think I have ever worked that hard in my life, because I was a full-time student on top of it. But I did it for a semester, then quit the hotel job that I hated. It was a wonderful Christmas present. By then, I had saved up enough money to take the place of two paychecks.

Secondly, I researched. I went all by myself (no group or university support) to a language school in Nicaragua. I talked to classmates that had done language schools in Central America before, read up on schools, compared pricing, and talked to my adviser to see if I could get academic credit for language school work. I picked Nicaragua because it was safe, compared to other countries in the region, was much, much cheaper than Costa Rica, and flying in and out of the capital, Managua, was only $448 round trip. Seriously, I think I snagged a bargain.

I chose a language school rather than a FSU-sponsored study abroad trip because I knew what I wanted/needed. There was a month-long trip from FSU to a language school in Costa Rica with homestay, taking 6 hours of classes (I only needed 3) that cost $5,000 plus airfare. Going directly to a language school (and cutting out the middle man) cut prices in half, easily. Even more than half. It meant that I did not emotional/financial/legal support from any group back home, and it meant that it was just me and my passport on the trip. It was nerve-wracking, because in the past I had always been on university-sponsored trips. But it was so much more affordable, and I felt ready to do things by myself.  I found a relatively inexpensive language school and worked out a weekly rate I could afford.

Thirdly, I knew that I didn’t want to finance the trip all myself. There was the plane tickets, the homestay, the classes, and the transportation on top of the two paychecks I had saved. I talked to my advisers at FSU again and hunted around for scholarships. I found a department-sponsored scholarship that covered about 60% of my trip cost, applied, and got it. There are usually lots of travel scholarships, from government ones to university ones that can be found. The U.S. Department of State will even sponsor some language trips!

So by cutting frills (like logistical support), putting my nose to the grindstone and working, finding a safe language school, and applying to scholarships I was able to study in Nicaragua for a month. And I’m also getting academic credit, which helps put me closer to graduation!

I recommend all of the above things listed, as well as talking to advisers in international program offices at your university, as well as your departmental advisers. They are knowledgeable about scholarships and other ways to go on trips cheaper. School-related travel is a very well-worn road, so there are lots of possibilities and way for things to fit together.

What do you plan to do to travel?

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Morgan S Hazelwood

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